Carefully designed audio stories that are heartbreaking and intimate. Web applications that make big data beautiful and simple to use.
Long-form text stories – re-envisioned for the social web – that change lives, laws and minds. A one-minute video that lays bare police brutality and the lies behind official reports.
This is what we do: Seek to uncover unique stories that will make a difference. Push to find newer and better ways of reporting, telling and distributing those stories. This year, we’re especially proud of that effort.
We launched the first hourlong radio show dedicated to investigative reporting, “Reveal.” Engage with it on our website, and you’ll get something rare: an elegant audio player that’s great on mobile, too. The player is designed so that as users navigate the website, they have a seamless listening experience, with the player tucked neatly at the bottom of their screen. Our episode pages allow users to listen to the whole show or just one segment and make sharing and digging deeper easy.
But we do much more than just audio.
The Dark Side of the Strawberry used long-form text, a data app and an animation to show how chemical companies and farmers in California had created loopholes in regulation that increased cancer risk and contributed to ozone depletion.
The text is one narrative, but anchor links in each chapter allowed us to slowly roll out the story on social media over one week and allowed users to share surprising findings with a pinpointed link.
There’s a stop-motion animation to simply and quickly explain a complex story. The Web app for the first time lets Californians know what’s actually going on with pesticide use around their homes, schools and businesses. It gives detailed location-based information about every pesticide application in the state over a decade and the associated health risks.
For residents who aren’t power users of Web apps, we made it easy: They could just text their address to a number, and the app sent them their details right back.
The strawberry story went big. But we’re also good with going very short. To help tell a slice of a Reveal radio collaboration with WAMU about police abuse, we put out a one-minute video to lay bare the lies in a police department’s official account of how a man who uses a wheelchair ended up beaten.
A bystander’s video shows police yank the man from his wheelchair and chuck him onto the concrete, bloodying him. Alongside of it, we put quotes from the official police report claiming that the victim had assaulted police officers. It was clearly not true.
As you can see, for us, everything starts with the story.
Our Hired Guns series exposed the dangerously unregulated world of armed security guards at a time when America is grappling with out-of-control violence from its most trained armed guards – police.
One highlight of the series was an interactive that was a collaborative effort between several reporters in the newsroom.
Allow us to get nerdy for a minute:
The interactive makes use of great open-source libraries like ProPublica’s Landline (for the U.S. state map) and Highcharts for the data visualization. Highcharts is a powerful charting library but comes with many default styles. For this project, we ended up writing a custom theme to make the charts fit Reveal’s aesthetic. We chose to let the data speak for itself and created simple ways to explore the data with charts and tables. Because this is the most comprehensive collection of this data in the country, we wanted to ensure interested readers and stakeholders had simple access to the information.
The Hired Guns interactive also excels in its modularity. We wrote the code so that we could repurpose the data for other interactive features. For example, we were able to create a simple interactive chart about training for manicurists in around 20 lines of code. We also were able to easily create a searchable widget for our partner, CNN, on its investigation page. By focusing on clean, shareable code from the start, we were able to create multiple presentations of data with little effort.
Lastly, when we got a tip that earthquakes were starting to hit Oklahoma with shocking frequency, we looked for a way to verify it. We built a data pipeline for daily processing of a worldwide earthquake catalog. The data showed that Oklahoma had more than three times as many earthquakes as California in 2014, a margin that’s grown even larger in 2015.
That could just be boring data, though. Instead, we produced an animated map that showed Oklahoma’s sudden jump from one or two quakes that could be felt by people to more than 550 in 2014. A video version of the animated map has drawn more than 129,000 views.
This is just a slice of what we did this year as we built out an investigative reporting audio show and merged it with high-impact reporting, innovative community engagement and beautifully designed apps.
All, of course, done in the service of telling vital, unique stories.